Ukrainian Who Led Volunteer Battalion Detained At Greek Border
A Ukrainian who founded and led a volunteer battalion in eastern Ukraine has been detained by Greek authorities while crossing over from Bulgaria on March 2 with his pregnant wife and 9-year-old child.
Serhiy Melnychuk, 48, posted a video on Facebook from the alleged detention center in Greece, saying that his arrest was based on a notice requested from Russia through Interpol, the world’s international police force.
A search through Interpol didn’t reveal Melnychuk’s name as a wanted person but not all notices are made public.
In early 2014, Melnychuk established and led the Aidar Battalion, which was comprised mostly of natives of the easternmost Luhansk region.
Aidar fought Russian-backed separatists that year and took part in liberating towns and cities in the industrial region.
Before it was incorporated into the armed forces in September 2014, Melnychuk and the battalion he led faced allegations of human rights abuses, looting, and marauding in the early phases of the war in which more than 13,000 people have been killed.
He was voted into parliament in 2014 with the Radical Party, then headed by Oleh Lyashko, whose political movement has no seats in the current legislature.
Melnychuk is from Ukraine's west-central region of Vinnytsya and said in his Facebook post that he was detained for unknown reasons.
Based on reporting by Hromadske and Ukrayinska Pravda
Russian Parliament To Declare Sea Of Azov As Internal Waters
Russian lawmaker Mikhail Sheremet told the RIA Novosti news agency on December 5 that the parliament's lower chamber, the State Duma, was set to approve a bill on the recognition of the Sea of Azov as an internal Russian body of water by the end of 2023. The Sea of Azov is bounded by Russia to the east, and by Ukraine's coast to the southwest and northwest. Russian troops occupied those areas in the first months of the Kremlin's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow has relocated warships to occupied Ukrainian ports since then. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.
Kyrgyz, Tajik Officials Say More Disputed Segments Of Border Agreed Upon
Officials from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan say the two countries agreed on another 24 kilometers of the border between the two former Soviet republics after special talks on the issue were held over the past week.
Tajikistan's State Committee for National Security said on December 5 that the talks were held in the northern town of Buston, near the Kyrgyz border.
According to the Kyrgyz government, the next round of talks regarding other parts of the border will be held on Kyrgyzstan's territory on a day that is still to be determined.
The delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Tajik border has been an issue for decades, but turned into an extremely urgent problem in recent years after several deadly clashes took place along disputed segments of the frontier.
In spring 2021, an armed conflict along one segment of the border left 36 Kyrgyz nationals, including two children, dead and 154 injured on the Kyrgyz side.
Tajik authorities officially said that 19 Tajik citizens were killed and 87 were injured during the clashes. However, local residents told RFE/RL's Tajik Service at the time that the number of people killed in the clashes was much higher.
In all, the border between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan is 972 kilometers long, of which 688 kilometers have now been agreed upon, while the rest remains disputed.
Many border areas in Central Asian former Soviet republics have been disputed since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The situation is particularly complicated near the numerous exclaves in the volatile Ferghana Valley, where the borders of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan meet.
Tensions in those areas have led to clashes between local residents and border guards of the three countries.
My Little Pony Gets Adult Rating After Russia Declares 'LGBT Movement' Extremist
The Russian online movie database Kinopoisk has changed its rating for the popular animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic to suitable for "18+" adult audiences, Mediazona reported, saying the move appears to be associated with "new legislative restrictions."
The adult rating for the children's show follows Russia's Supreme Court declaring last week the "international LGBT social movement" extremist. The decision banned all its activities -- -- even though the movement does not exist legally -- effective immediately.
Kinopoisk did not explain its move, but some social-media channels noted that Rainbow Dash, one of the ponies in the animated franchise mainly targeted at young girls, is depicted with a mane and tail in colors that resemble the rainbow colors that symbolize LGBT rights.
Separately, the Russian social network VKontakte has restricted access to the content of the Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. -- consisting of Lena Katina, now 39, and Julia Volkova, now 38.
VKontakte has blocked access to the t.A.T.u. community's posts, photos, and videos, Sota wrote.
Last year, after the adoption of a law banning LGBT propaganda, community administrators voluntarily deleted all footage of the two singers kissing.
A popular act across the world in the early 2000s, t.A.T.u, shot to fame with the hit Not Gonna Get Us and represented Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2003.
Their single All the Things She Said peaked at the top spot on music charts in Australia, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
The video for the song caused controversy worldwide because it showed Katina and Volkova, who were both 17 at the time, kissing behind a fence, although neither of them identified themselves as homosexual.
The Supreme Court decision sparked outrage among human rights defenders, with Amnesty International saying the ruling will have "catastrophic" consequences.
"This shameful and absurd decision represents a new front in the Russian authorities' campaign against the LGBTI community," said Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, in a statement.
Prosecutor Seeks Almost 20 Years In Prison For Former Russian Minister Abyzov
The prosecutor at the high-profile trial of former Russian Minister for Open Government Affairs Mikhail Abyzov has asked a Moscow court to convict the defendant on corruption charges and sentence him to almost two decades in prison.
The prosecutor asked the Preobrazhensky district court on November 4 to sentence Abyzov to 19 1/2 years, and his four co-defendants, former top managers of the Novosibirsk region's energy supplying companies, to prison terms between seven and 18 1/2 years.
Abyzov was arrested in March 2019 and charged with organization of a criminal group, fraud, illegal entrepreneurship, and commercial tampering.
His co-defendants, Nikolai Stepanov, Maksim Rusakov, Galina Fainberg, and Aleksandr Pelipasov, were arrested at the same time as suspects in the case.
Abyzov was minister for open government affairs from 2012 to 2018 in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
He is one of several liberal-leaning former government officials in Russia who has been targeted by criminal investigations in recent years.
Abyzov's arrest was seen by some observers in Moscow as part of a crackdown by Russia's security and intelligence services against reformist politicians.
As a minister in Medvedev's cabinet, Abyzov's duties had included trying to make the Russian government more transparent and accountable.
But Russia's Investigative Committee charges that Abyzov was a member of a criminal organization that embezzled 4 billion rubles, or about $44 million, from the Siberian Energy Company and Regional Electric Grid in Novosibirsk.
Investigators allege that Abyzov and his accomplices stole the money and transferred the funds abroad. They also accused Abyzov of founding the criminal enterprise in April 2011, before he became a government minister.
Abyzov has held several executive positions at major Russian energy firms since the mid-1990s, including a role on the board of directors at the electric-power holding company Unified Energy System.
With reporting by Interfax
Russian Activist Who Disappeared In Georgia Located In Detention Center In Sverdlovsk Region
Russian activist Rafail Shepelev, who disappeared in Georgia in mid-October, has been located in a pretrial detention center in Nizhny Tagil in Russia's Sverdlovsk region in the Urals, the human rights project First Department reported.
Shepelev, an activist of the Artpodgotovka (Artillery Bombardment) movement, has been charged with terrorism, First Department reported on its Telegram channel.
Russia labeled Artpodgotovka, a Russian political organization of a left-wing-nationalist character, as an extremist group in 2017 and banned it.
Human rights activists say that Shepelev, who had resided in Georgia since 2021 and did not plan to return to Russia, was tricked into leaving Tbilisi by Russian security forces.
"They lured him from Tbilisi to Tskhinvali (in the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia), detained him there, transported him to Vladikavkaz (in Russia), placed him under administrative arrest, during which they charged him with a criminal offense and put him in the Nizhny Tagil pretrial detention center," First Department said.
Shepelev's documents, including his passport, remained in Georgia.
Shepelev reportedly went missing in Tbilisi on October 12. Irina Ruchko, a friend of Shepelev, told Mediazona that he “left home to take care of errands" without giving details.
The day after Shepelev went missing, an administrative case was opened against him in a court in the Russian city of Vladikavkaz.
He was first sentenced to 15 days of administrative arrest for alleged petty hooliganism and was later charged with participation in the activities of a terrorist organization, which can be punished by 10 to 20 years in prison, and of justifying terrorism -- a charge that bring five to seven years of prison.
In October, another Russian activist, Lev Skoryakin, was discovered in a Moscow detention center after he went missing in Kyrgyzstan.
Putin To Make Rare Trip Abroad With Visit To Middle East
In a rare trip abroad as an international arrest warrant hangs over him, Russian President Vladimir Putin will visit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on December 6 before heading home for a meeting with Iran's president the next day.
The Kremlin said on December 5 that bilateral relations and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be discussed during the meetings, while issues concerning the oil market, "are also always on the agenda."
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in March issued arrest warrants for Putin and his children's commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia -- a war crime under international legislation.
While Putin did not make many foreign trips before the warrant was issued, he has curtailed his travel even more since.
He did not attend the G20 summit in India in September, and has limited his recent trips to countries such as China and states of the former Soviet Union.
With the warrant, Putin became the third serving head of state to be targeted in an arrest warrant from the ICC, the world's permanent war crimes tribunal, along with Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Libya's Muammar Qaddafi.
The Kremlin did not give details of Putin's agenda, but the online news outlet Shot, which first reported the trip, quoted Kremlin foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov as saying the Russian leader would travel first to the U.A.E. before heading on to Saudi Arabia, where talks would include a meeting with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman.
Putin and the prince have developed close ties over the years as they worked to form a group of leading oil producers, now known as OPEC+, in late 2016. The group has worked to support the price of oil, and last week announced voluntary supply cuts.
Following the one-day trip, Putin will return home and meet Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the Kremlin said.
Putin visited Iran in July 2022, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Tehran in October.
Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Iran has widely been accused of delivering cheap but effective kamikaze drones to Moscow.
While Iran denies the allegations, saying it only sold drones to Moscow before the war started, U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Tehran of supplying Shahed-136 Iranian drones that Russia has used to destroy civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. There has been evidence of Iranian drones rebranded as Russian Geran-2s being used on the battlefield.
And as the two countries have increased military-technical cooperation, Iran's Defense Ministry has routinely showcased its ballistic, cruise, anti-tank, and air-defense missile systems to Russian officials.
This has raised fears Moscow and Tehran could try to expand their existing arms dealing to include more advanced weaponry, know-how, and technology that could boost both Russia's war effort in Ukraine and Iran's ballistic-missile and drone programs.
HRW Condemns Uzbekistan's Sentencing Of Popular Blogger To Eight Years In Prison
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the sentencing by an Uzbek court of blogger Olimjon Haidarov to eight years in prison on charges of extortion, defamation, and libel. Haidarov, who was arrested in late July, was sentenced in the Ferghana region on December 1. He has rejected the charges as politically motivated. "The court decision to jail Haidarov for eight years, including on freedom of expression offenses, will have a chilling effect on free speech and media freedoms in Uzbekistan," HRW's Mihra Rittmann said in a statement on December 5.
Four Children, Adult Injured In Pakistan Blast
Four children, aged 7 to 10, and an adult were injured in an explosion in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar early on December 5, hospital and rescue officials said. Bilal Ahmad Faizi, a spokesman for the emergency rescue services, said an improvised explosive device went off on a busy road in Peshawar at 9:10 a.m. He said five people, including four children, were injured. Two of the children were in critical condition, Mohammad Asim, a spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Ukraine Downs 10 Russian Drones; Russia Downs Drones Over Occupied Crimea
Ukrainian air defenses shot down 10 out of 17 Iranian-made drones launched by Russia overnight, the air force said on its Telegram channel on December 5.
"17 Shahed-type strike UAVs and six S-300 antiaircraft guided missiles were launched at Ukraine's territory," the message said, adding that 10 drones were destroyed over various regions of Ukraine.
The message did not say whether there were casualties or damage as a result of the attack.
Meanwhile, the Russian military said it had destroyed 22 Ukrainian drones and "intercepted" another 13 early on December 5 over occupied Crimea and the Sea of Azov.
"Twenty-two Ukrainian unmanned aerial vehicles were destroyed by air-defense systems and 13 more were intercepted over the Sea of Azov and the territory of the Republic of Crimea," Russia's Defense Ministry said in a statement.
Separate reports said that traffic on the Crimea Bridge was temporarily suspended.
Unverified reports on social media indicated that the target of the Ukrainian drone attack could have been the Kerch shipyard.
Ukraine Says Exports Via Black Sea Corridor Total 7 Million Tons
Ukraine says it has exported around 7 million tons of cargo through Black Sea ports despite Russia's blockade. Ukraine's Reconstruction Ministry said on December 4 on Telegram that the 7 million tons of cargo included almost 5 million tons of Ukrainian agricultural products. The ministry said on October 27 that Ukraine had exported 1.3 million tons of cargo through its Black Sea corridor since August, suggesting there had been a sharp increase in November. Ukraine created the corridor to the Bosphorus after Russia refused to renew a deal that had allowed Kyiv to safely export its grain to world markets.
Concerns For Health Of Iranian Political Prisoner Rise Amid Hunger Strike
Iranian political prisoners Sepideh Gholian and Mahboubeh Rezaei, incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison, have warned about the deteriorating health of fellow inmate Zahra Sarv, who has been on a hunger strike since early December to protest against the harsh treatment and injustices she has faced since her arrest in October 2021.
The plight of Sarv, detailed in a letter obtained by RFE/RL's Radio Farda, outlines a pattern of disregard for prisoner rights within the Iranian judicial system.
Despite having served one-third of her sentence, Sarv's conditional release has been repeatedly denied, reportedly due to the objections of her case interrogator.
The situation has reached a critical point, with Sarv being compelled to endure a 6 1/2-year sentence handed to her by Branch 26 of the Tehran Revolutionary Court on charges of "conspiracy and collusion to act against national security" and "propaganda against the system."
Throughout the legal proceedings, she and her lawyer were denied access to her case file.
Gholian and Rezaei, who have themselves been subject to harsh treatment in prison, have voiced their despair at witnessing Sarv's state of health and well-being decline rapidly in recent days.
Sarv, who says she has been denied proper medical attention even though she suffers from gastrointestinal problems, has gone on hunger strikes several times in the past to protest against her lack of rights and mistreatment.
Unrest has rattled Iran since last summer in response to declining living standards, wage arrears, and a lack of insurance support. Labor law in Iran does not recognize the right of workers to form independent unions.
Adding to the dissent, the September 2022 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in police custody for allegedly wearing a head scarf improperly breathed new life into demonstrations, which officials across the country have since tried to quell with harsh measures.
The activist HRANA news agency said that more than 500 people have been killed during the unrest, including 71 minors, as security forces try to stifle widespread dissent.
Thousands have been arrested in the clampdown, with the judiciary handing out harsh sentences -- including the death penalty -- to protesters.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Orban Wants EU Membership For Ukraine Stripped From Summit Agenda
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has written European Council President Charles Michel to demand that Ukraine's membership in the European Union be taken off the agenda at a summit next week.
In a letter to Michel, who will chair the summit in Brussels, Orban also warned against putting a review of billions of dollars in funding for Ukraine on the agenda, saying both topics are doomed to fail.
Orban urged Michel not to push for a decision at the European Council on these matters in December, "as the clear lack of consensus will inevitably lead to failure."
He insisted that a "strategic discussion" was needed first about Ukraine's EU membership and warned that forcing a decision could destroy EU unity.
The council "must avoid this counterproductive scenario for the sake of unity, which is our most important asset," he said in his second letter to Michel in as many weeks about Ukraine's prospective EU membership. But the letter did not say outright that Hungary would veto any moves to open membership talks with Ukraine.
Decisions on the enlargement of the bloc and a review of its long-term budget, which includes 50 billion euros ($54.1 billion) in aid for Kyiv, must be agreed unanimously by all 27 member countries. Ukraine is counting on the EU funds to help its economy survive in the coming year.
Michel's office declined to comment on Orban's letter, according to the AP.
Michel traveled to Budapest last week after Oban's first letter in which he urged a change in strategy of the European Union's policy toward Ukraine.
After meeting with Orban on November 27, Michel posted a message on X, formerly Twitter, stressing the importance of EU unity, saying it "requires constant effort and it's our main strength."
The European Commission, which supervises the enlargement process, last month recommended that Ukraine be allowed open membership talks once it addresses corruption, lobbying concerns, and restrictions that might prevent its minorities from studying and reading in their own languages.
Orban said allowing accession talks to start even though all preconditions have not been met would mark the end of the European Union's enlargement policy "as an objective and merit-based instrument."
Orban discussed his position on opening European Union accession negotiations with Ukraine last week in an interview with Hungarian state radio in which he said it was not currently in Hungary's interest.
"I would favor the EU reaching a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first," Orban said, adding that such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements.
"When we see that we can cooperate, then let's bring up the issue of membership again, but that will be possible only after many, many years," he said.
Orban is considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest allies in Europe, and his nationalist government has argued against EU sanctions on Russia over its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
With reporting by AP
Anti-War Committee, Academic Network Added To Russian Registry Of 'Undesirable Organizations'
The Russian Justice Ministry on December 4 added the Anti-War Committee and the Academic Network Eastern Europe to its registry of undesirable organizations. The activities of the two organizations will be prohibited in Russia, and anyone who cooperates with them may face criminal penalties, including up to six years in prison. The Anti-War Committee was founded in 2022 by opposition politician Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chess champion Garry Kasparov, and other prominent Russians. The Academic Network Eastern Europe was launched in 2020 to help scientists and students under threat of political persecution find new places to conduct research. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, click here.
Armenia Says Soldier Killed Along Border With Azerbaijan; Baku Calls Report 'Complete Lie'
The Armenian Defense Ministry says a soldier has been shot dead along the country's tense border with Azerbaijan in what Yerevan says was a cease-fire violation. The ministry said the incident happened near the village of Bardzruni at around 2:35 p.m. local time on December 4. Bardzruni Mayor Arsen Aleksanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that the shots were fired in the direction of the Armenian position at the border and were heard in the village. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry denied the report, calling it "provocative information of the Armenian side" and a "complete lie." To read the original story by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, click here.
U.S. Citizen Reportedly Found Dead In Russian Immigration Center
A U.S. citizen has been found dead at an immigration center in Russia's Krasnodar region, Kommersant reported on December 4. Ernest Harry Mitchell, 56, had been ordered held after a Russian court ruled that he violated regulations by having invalid health insurance and "undeclared cash" while trying to enter Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia from Russia, Kommersant said. The court fined Mitchell 3,000 rubles ($32) and ordered him to be deported. Mitchell did not plan to challenge the ruling. Kommersant said his body was found on the premises of the center and a preliminary report suggested suicide was the cause.
Seven Former Bosnian Serb Soldiers Indicted On Genocide Charges
Seven former members of the Bosnian Serb forces have been charged with assisting in genocide in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina during the Bosnian War in 1995, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on December 4. The seven men are accused of being members of the Republika Srpska Military Police, which participated in capturing Bosniak men and boys as they tried to cross into territory controlled by the Bosnian military after the fall of the UN-protected zone of Srebrenica. The defendants are accused of detaining the Bosniaks and transporting them to three locations where they were shot and killed. To read the original story by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, click here.
Russian Opposition Politician Confined To Prison Solitary
Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, has been sent to solitary confinement for five days, his Telegram channel said on December 4. Officially, Yashin was "punished" for refusing to work on the construction of a new prison barrack. But Yashin said the issue of his work on the construction site was raised after he challenged the Kremlin in video testimony in a hearing last week. After the hearing a Moscow court fined him for failing to follow "foreign agent" requirements.
Russian Officials Visit Niger To Bolster Military Ties
Russia and Niger agreed to strengthen military cooperation during a visit by a Russian delegation led by the deputy defense minister, Nigerien authorities said on December 4. The trip was the first official visit by a member of the Russian government since the army ousted the civilian government in a coup in July. The Russian delegation led by Colonel General Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was hosted by the head of Niger's military government, General Abdourahamane Tiani. The parties "signed documents to strengthen military cooperation between the Republic of Niger and the Russian Federation," according to Nigerien authorities.
Regional Iranian Officials Order Strict Dress Code For Female Public Workers
Iranian media say the governorate of the central city of Qom has issued a directive mandating female employees in government offices adhere to strict Islamic dress codes, specifically wearing a black chador, a large piece of cloth that is wrapped around the head and upper body leaving only the face exposed, and refraining from using makeup.
The directive, initially disclosed by the Iran Watch rights group's website, marks a further tightening of the Islamic republic's stance on how women can dress in the workplace.
The deputy governor of Qom, Abolghasem Moghimi Araghi, emphasized in the directive the need for female employees to comply with the "laws of modesty and hijab." The requirement underscores the regime's renewed emphasis on conservative dress standards, particularly in Qom, a city known for its religious significance and as a hub for Shi'ite religious education.
The directive's publication coincides with a period of heightened sensitivity and opposition to Iran's mandatory hijab laws.
Nationwide protests under the banner of "Women, life, freedom" have called for the abolition of compulsory dress codes, with Iranian women risking much in their quest for freedom and equality by standing at the forefront of the demonstrations.
This latest regulation in Qom, compelling the wearing of a chador in public offices, is unprecedented in its scope and signals an intensification of the government's approach toward enforcing strict Islamic dress codes.
The hijab, or Islamic head scarf, became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.
Women also have launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country for safety reasons.
Tensions have run high in Iran over the hijab law since 22-year-old Mahsa Amini's death in police custody in September 2022.
Amini's death, which came just days after her detention in Tehran by the morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly, led to nationwide protests and hundreds of demonstrators' deaths across the country.
Despite lasting public anger, parliament around the anniversary of Amini's death approved an updated version of the law that included harsher penalties for violations, including prison sentences of up to 10 years.
In late October, outrage boiled over again after another young woman died following an alleged encounter with "morality" enforcers earlier that month in a Tehran subway car.
Armita Garavand, 17, died after falling into a coma after the alleged confrontation on October 1. Some reports have suggested she was assaulted by the morality police, while others have said hijab guards were responsible.
Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda
Former RFE/RL Turkmen Correspondent Arrested On Unknown Charges
Police in the northern Turkmen city of Koneurgench have arrested Hudaiberdy Allashov, a former correspondent for RFE/RL in the Central Asian country, on unknown charges.
Relatives told RFE/RL that Allashov was arrested on December 1, several days after he was summoned by the police, where he was "beaten and electroshocked."
According to the relatives, Allashov's whereabouts and the reason for his arrest are unknown.
Allashov worked as an RFE/RL correspondent for about three months in 2016 before he and his mother were arrested in December that year on a charge of using chewing tobacco, which is illegal in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic. Allashov and his mother, Kurbantach Arazmedova, rejected the charge at the time.
In mid-February 2017, amid an international outcry, Allashov and his mother were released after a court convicted them of possessing chewing tobacco and handed each a three-year suspended prison sentence.
After his release, Allashov stopped working for RFE/RL, as he feared for his safety.
In October 2019, police rearrested Allashov and beat him during questioning over several hours. The stress of her son's situation weighed on Arazmedova, who fell ill and died in hospital two days later.
In May 2022, an official severely beat Allashov and his wife in Koneurgench, after which Allashov's wife, Ejesh Arazgylyjeva, was hospitalized and he himself needed medical assistance.
Last month, another former RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan, 74-year-old Soltan Achilova, was not allowed to leave the country for Switzerland, where she was expected to receive a prestigious human rights award for her reporting.
Achilova told RFE/RL at the time that she was strip-searched and humiliated at Ashgabat International Airport, where officials didn't allow her or her daughter to board a plane on November 17 despite having valid passports, visas, and tickets.
The only journalist in Turkmenistan who openly criticizes the authoritarian government, Achilova was scheduled to attend the Martin Ennals Award human rights ceremony in Switzerland on November 21.
The government maintains tight control of newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet in Turkmenistan, which placed 177th out of 180 countries in the 2023 Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.
In New Case, Russian Prosecutors Seek 12 Years For Jailed Ex-Governor
Prosecutors in Russia's Kirov region on December 4 asked a court in the regional capital of Kirov to sentence to 12 years in prison the region's former governor, Nikita Belykh, who is already serving an eight-year prison term on a bribe-taking charge that he rejects.
Belykh was arrested in July 2016 and sentenced to eight years in prison on February 1, 2018, after a Moscow court found him guilty of taking about 400,000 euros ($435,150) in bribes in 2012-16 in connection with timber projects in the region.
One of the highest-ranking officials to be arrested in office since President Vladimir Putin was first elected in 2000, Belykh maintained his innocence, saying he was the victim of a "banal provocation" by law enforcement.
In July 2021, the Investigative Committee launched a new probe against Belykh, accusing him of abuse of office. According to investigators, while leading the region, Belykh used his post to illegally obtain 320 million rubles ($3.5 million) from a mortgage company for a local business.
The prosecutor's office added that the 12 years requested by prosecutors would include the time Belykh has already served, meaning the new case would add about four years to Belykh's current prison time.
Belykh has maintained innocence in the new case as well.
Once a leader of a liberal opposition party, the Union of Rightist Forces, Belykh was one of the few provincial governors in Russia not to be closely allied with Putin.
Before serving as Kirov governor, Belykh was a deputy governor of the Perm region and a lawmaker in the regional assembly.
He conducted several political campaigns in opposition to Putin's policies and was sharply criticized by liberals such as former ally Boris Nemtsov -- who was assassinated in February 2015 -- when he accepted appointment in 2009 by then-President Dmitry Medvedev.
Putin fired Belykh in July 2016, shortly after his arrest.
Kyrgyz Blogger Who Wrote About Issues At Mining Complex Cleared On Violence Charges
A court in Bishkek on December 4 fully acquitted blogger Yryskeldi Jekshenaliev, who was arrested in August on charges of making public calls for mass disorder and violence. Prosecutors sought seven years in prison for him. The probe against the 20-year-old blogger was launched in August last year. His arrest came hours after President Sadyr Japarov condemned unspecified "defenders" of the environment in the region, calling them "false patriots and liars." The charges against Jekshenaliev stemmed from his Facebook posts about ecological problems at an iron ore mining complex. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.
Afghans Banned From 16 Provinces In Iran As Forced Exodus Continues
Iran has banned millions of Afghan refugees and migrants in the country from living in, traveling to, or seeking employment in just over half of the country's 31 provinces.
On December 3, Hamzeh Soleimani, the director-general of citizenship and foreign nationals affairs of the western Kermanshah Province, confirmed the ban was in place in 16 provinces nationwide.
"Numerous construction projects, greenhouses and livestock farms underwent inspection under the plan. [This led] to the arrest and expulsion of Afghan workers from the province," he said.
Iranian media have identified 15 of the 16 provinces, including Kermanshah, East Azarbaijan, West Azerbaijan, Ardabil, Zanjan, Kurdistan, Hamedan, Gilan, Mazandaran, Sistan-Baluchistan, Ilam, Lorestan, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Kahgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad, and Hormozgan.
In October, Iranian Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi reiterated that Tehran would deport all "illegal" migrants, most of whom are Afghan nationals who fled war, persecution, and poverty.
Tehran estimates that more than 5 million Afghans currently live in the country. Iranian officials now want to deport at least half of them because they do not have the documents to remain in the country.
During the past few months, the rate of Afghans deported from Iran has steadily increased despite efforts by Afghanistan's Taliban-run government to persuade Tehran to give the Afghans more time before embarking on a mass expulsion campaign like Pakistan.
Islamabad is currently deporting thousands of impoverished Afghans daily as part of its campaign to expel more than 1.7 million "undocumented foreigners."
In Iran, Afghans say their life is becoming more complicated with each passing day.
"The situation of Afghan refugees across Iran is very worrying," Sharif Mateen, an Afghan refugee, told RFE/RL's Azadi Radio.
"Police are arresting everyone irrespective of whether they have documents or not. They are then taken to repatriation camps," he added.
WATCH: Despite risks to their safety, thousands of Afghans -- often undocumented -- flock into Iran to find work.
Iran has hosted millions of Afghans for more than four decades, but Tehran has often complained of the lack of international aid for hosting them.
More than 70 percent of the 3.6 million Afghans who left their country after the Taliban seized back power in August 2021 fled to Iran.
Data show most are educated, middle-class Afghans who served in the fallen pro-Western Afghan republic's security forces or civil bureaucracy.
Russia Seeks To Take Eastern Ukrainian Stronghold 'At Any Cost' As Kyiv Gets Worrying News About Western Support
Local military officials in eastern Ukraine say Russian forces have expanded their avenues of attack against the Donetsk region town of Avdiyivka in an effort to surround and capture it "at any cost."
Ukrainian forces have been engaged in heavy fighting for weeks as they try to stave off Russian advances on the industrial hub, and are now facing assaults from two new directions, according to Vitaliy Barabash, the head of Avdiyivka's military administration.
"The current third wave of enemy assaults differs from the previous two in that they have conditionally opened two new directions," Barabash told Ukrainian state media on December 4. "The launching of new directions proves that the enemy has been given a command to capture the city at any cost."
Ukrainian commanders have said that Russian forces have suffered heavy losses during the assault on the frontline town, while British intelligence has said that the fight for Avdiyivka has led to the highest casualty rates among Russian troops since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Barabash said some 1,300 civilians remained in Avdiyivka, which once had a population of about 30,000.
The comments came as Ukraine touted multiple battleground victories, but also received troubling news about possible issues regarding future financial and military support from its Western allies.
In the United States, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to approve tens of billions of promised economic assistance to Kyiv to support Ukraine's war effort.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young warned in the letter that without action the United States will run out of money to help Kyiv by the end of the year, a scenario Young said would "kneecap" Ukrainian forces.
The United States is already running out of resources to procure more weapons and equipment for Ukraine and to provide equipment from U.S. military stocks.
"We are out of money to support Ukraine" in its fight against Russia, she said.
Young stressed that helping Ukraine defend itself and secure its future as a democratic and independent nation "advances our national security interests" and prevents larger conflict in the region that could involve NATO.
She urged Congress not to postpone the funding any further. "This isn’t a next-year problem. The time to help a democratic Ukraine fight against Russian aggression is right now. It is time for Congress to act."
U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan told a White House briefing that Congress "has to act now" to help Ukraine.
"Congress has to decide whether to continue to support the fight for freedom in Ukraine...or whether Congress will ignore the lessons we've learned from history and let Putin prevail," Sullivan said. "It is that simple. It is that stark a choice."
While the Biden administration has sought a nearly $106 billion aid package to cover Ukraine, Israel, allies in the Indo-Pacific, and other priority areas, the request has been met with skepticism by some lawmakers.
Congress previously allocated $111 billion in Ukrainian aid, including $60 billion that bolstered the U.S. defense industry or supported Defense Department and intelligence operations, Young's letter said.
In NATO-member Bulgaria, meanwhile, President Rumen Radev vetoed the country's plans to send 100 surplus armored personnel carriers to aid Ukraine's efforts to stave off invading Russian forces.
Radev said on December 4 that lawmakers needed to reassess if the vehicles, which were to be provided free of charge, might still be of use to Bulgaria in the case of emergencies. The deal will now go back to parliament for a second vote.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's military also said on December 4 that it had downed dozens of drones launched by Russia over the past 24 hours, and that an overnight drone attack launched by Ukrainian forces had destroyed a major oil depot on Russian-controlled territory in the eastern Luhansk region.
In Russia, the governor of the Voronezh region, Aleksandr Gusev, on December 4 confirmed reports that Russian Major General Vladimir Zavadsky died last week in Ukraine.
Unconfirmed reports in Russian and Ukraine said earlier that the 45-year-old deputy commander of the 14th Army Corps was killed in Ukraine on November 28
The Russian media website iStories said at the time that Zavadsky was the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine had been confirmed by Russian sources.
With reporting by AFP and AP
RFE/RL Journalist Kurmasheva's Appeal Over Dual-Citizenship Fine Rejected
KAZAN, Russia -- A court in Kazan, the capital of Russia's Tatarstan region, has rejected an appeal filed by lawyers of Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service, against another court's October decision to fine her 10,000 rubles ($110) for "failure to inform Russian officials about holding a second citizenship."
After the Soviet district court pronounced its decision on December 4, the ruling to fine Kurmasheva, who has been in Russian custody since October 18 on a separate case, officially came into force.
Kurmasheva, a Prague-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenships, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.
She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in Kazan, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.
On October 11, a court ordered Kurmasheva to pay the fine for failing to register her U.S. passport with Russian authorities.
Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a foreign agent, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The Investigative Committee said Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia," which, if received by foreign sources, "can be used against the security of the country."
It gave no further details.
Last week, the Soviet district court extended Kurmasheva's pretrial detention until at least February 5.
The Investigative Committee said its investigation found that while the Russian Justice Ministry did not add her to the list of foreign agents, she failed to provide documents to be included on the registry.
Kurmasheva and RFE/RL have both rejected the charge.
Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be held by Moscow this year, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals new level of war-time censorship.
The court decision to extend Kurmasheva's detention came on December 1, a day after leading Russian human rights group Memorial recognized her as a political prisoner.
Moscow has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for allegedly spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny -- in March.
Kurmasheva is one of four RFE/RL journalists -- Andrey Kuznechyk, Ihar Losik, and Vladyslav Yesypenko are the other three -- currently imprisoned on charges related to their work. Rights groups and RFE/RL have called repeatedly for the release of all four, saying they have been wrongly detained.
Losik is a blogger and contributor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who was convicted in December 2021 on several charges including the “organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order” and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Kuznechyk, a web editor for RFE/RL’s Belarus Service, was sentenced in June 2022 to six years in prison following a trial that lasted no more than a few hours. He was convicted of “creating or participating in an extremist organization.”
Yesypenko, a dual Ukrainian-Russian citizen who contributed to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was sentenced in February 2022 to six years in prison by a Russian judge in occupied Crimea after a closed-door trial. He was convicted of “possession and transport of explosives,” a charge he steadfastly denies.
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